1892 was a very special year for craftsmanship.

In 1892, The Strand Arcade opened in Sydney, unveiling three storeys of Victorian architecture encased by a magnificent glass ceiling. That same year, an 18th century building in Dufftown, Scotland, began its transformation into what is known today as The Balvenie Distillery.

Strand Arcade Sydney

Despite doing so in different ways, both The Strand and the Balvenie Distillery support and celebrate the talent and skills that go into craftsmanship of all kinds.

The Strand is home to a number of special and unique local businesses. Gumption by Coffee Alchemy allows you to taste the sweet craft of coffee making; Strand Hatters encourages you to appreciate the history of each hat placed atop your head; whilst The Nut Shop surrounds you with the tantalising aroma of freshly roasted nuts.

In Scotland, the Balvenie Distillery is the home of a number of craftsmen who have placed the art of whisky making at the centre of their long careers. The distillery is the only to have maintained such a large focus on craftsmanship, with other distilleries nowadays favouring more mass production and manufacturing. At the Balvenie Distillery, Dennis McBain maintains the copper stills, something he has been doing for nearly 60 years; oak casks are handcrafted by skilled craftsmen in the cooperage; barley is turned on the floor of the malthouse every four hours; and David Stewart, with his 50 years of experience as the Malt Master, samples the whiskies and creates the distinctive flavours of Balvenie single malt whisky.

The Balvenie Distillery casksImage: supplied

Balvenie MalthouseImage: supplied

Late last month on the 25th-28th June, The Strand and The Balvenie came together in a celebration of craftsmanship in what was dubbed The Balvenie Craft Fair and Winter Picnic. Hosted at The Strand Arcade, revellers were invited to see and sample crafts from a number of the Strand’s residents.

Pendolino StallAgrumato LimoneAgrumato Limone (Lemon flavoured Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and, my favourite of the two, Fruttato Allegro (Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil) used at Pendolino

Taka Tea Garden TeapotsTaka Tea Garden Teapot display.

Taka Tea Garden MatchaMulled Wine from GewurzhausDelicious mulled wine from Gewürzhaus

Salted Cashews from The Nut ShopSalted Cashews from The Nut Shop. 

Haigh's Chocolates on displayHaigh’s Chocolates on display.

Visitors to The Strand were offered the chance to taste some of The Balvenie’s famous whisky at their pop-up bar, while the more avid whisky lovers could attend one of The Balvenie Master Classes hosted by Whisky Ambassador, Laura Hay.

Balvenie Pop-Up Bar at The Strand ArcadeBalvenie Bar

We had the chance to join one of these Master Classes, and in an intimate group of 14 people, learned about the rich history of The Balvenie distillery and the immense amount of skill and passion that goes into making the famous whisky.

Balvenie Master ClassBalvenie Master Class

Of The Balvenie’s diverse range, we sampled three whiskies paired with three different sweets from The Strand’s sugar masters. Using her keen senses of smell and taste – refined through years of experience in the whisky industry – Laura Hay selected these pairings specifically to bring out the flavours in each spirit.

Balvenie DoubleWood and Caribbean CaskLaura Hay with Balvenie whiskyImage: supplied. Laura Hay with The Balvenie whisky.

Before tasting, we were encouraged to ‘nose’ each whisky and enjoy the rich aromas captured in every glass. Laura told me that there were two different kinds of people, those that were born gifted with a ‘super nose’ and were able to pick up on different aromas quite easily, and those who enhance these abilities through experience and training their nose to pick up on different scents. Knowing quite well that I’m not particularly gifted with a super nose, I relied on Laura’s expertise to guide me through the different accents in each whisky. It amazed me that so many different ingredients could be picked up in a single glass. It makes it impossible not to appreciate all the different steps taken to produce The Balvenie whisky – especially given that each step is carefully overseen by an experienced craftsman.

Balvenie whisky and matched desserts

The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years was paired with The Nut Shop’s Candied Macadamia. DoubleWood refers to the way in which the whisky is aged in two different wooden casks, first a traditional oak whisky cask and then a European oak sherry cask. I was told to keep note of the whisky’s sweet fruit and Oloroso sherry notes, and to pick up on the sweet hint of honey and vanilla. When it came time for tasting, Laura encouraged us to first sample the whisky neat, and then try adding just a drop of water to see how it opened up the flavours. The 12 year DoubleWood had a trace of nuttiness to it, which paired well with the candied macadamia. The macadamia itself was deliciously sweet and crunchy, owing its high quality to three generations of the Mendels family’s dedication and passion.Balvenie DoubleWood 12 yearsImage: supplied

Next, we nosed the Caribbean Cask, which had been left to mature for 14 years in oak whisky casks before being moved into casks that previously held Caribbean rum. The process of moving spirits from one cask into another relies heavily on the expertise of The Balvenie’s Malt Master David Stewart. With no cask being entirely the same and the process of maturing being a natural process, numerous tests of nosing and tasting have to be conducted along the way to actually ensure the whisky is ready for its next step. The Caribbean Cask was paired with the Crème Brulee Tart from Sweet Infinity, and was undeniably a delicious pairing. The sweet and creamy toffee scents in the whisky gave way to a fruity, vanilla flavour, which only enhanced the sweetness of the tart. Balvenie Caribbean Cask aged 14 yearsImage: supplied

Last, The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 17 Years was paired with the Dark Chocolate Frog from Haigh’s Chocolates. Both the whisky and the chocolate had strong flavours, and so it was only befitting that they would be matched to one another. With an array of flavours in the whisky, including dried fruits, sherbet spice, toasted almonds, cinnamon, toffee, oak and vanilla, the overall impression was one of a deep, complex spirit.
Balvenie DoubleWood 17 yearsImage: supplied.

From The Balvenie’s world of coppersmiths and coopers to The Strand Arcade’s world of coffee makers, hat makers, jewellery makers, designers and eateries, we were happily immersed in what life was like over 100 years ago. The Balvenie Craft Fair and Winter Picnic was a delightful celebration of craftsmanship of all kinds and it definitely instilled an even greater appreciation of the craftspeople who are carrying on these historic traditions today.

The Balvenie whiskyImage: supplied
The Strand Arcade Craft Fair

The Strand Arcade
412-414 George St, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9265 6800
Website: strandarcade.com.au

I Ate My Way Through attended The Balvenie Master Class as guests of The Balvenie